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Postmortem on the Supercommittee

“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.”

That declaration by co-chairs, Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash), is bound to mark the beginning of numerous postmortems by analysts trying to decide what went wrong with the so-called supercommittee formed this past August.  One thing is certain; despite last minute conferences and back-room politicking, nothing was accomplished.

How It All Got Started

When talks between President Obama and House Speaker Bohner failed to go anywhere, the only supposed solution to avoiding a default by the U.S. Government was through what was formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Conservatives brokered a deal that tied any increases in the debt ceiling with efforts to reduce the federal deficit. Congress compromised on baseline cuts of $1 trillion over the next decade. It then called for the formation of a bipartisan committee tasked with recommending an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts during the same time period. The end of 2011 was then set as the deadline for Congress to act on those recommendations.

The design of the committee was to have co-chairs with authority for negotiations and communications. However, all twelve members were given an equal say in the committee. The end result was that at least seven had to agree to move any proposal forward. The committee members included:

Senators: Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio),Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

Representatives: Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), and Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).

How this was supposed to work is still hard to imagine. Republicans came into the supercommittee determined to resist any tax increases, while Democrats were equally opposed to cuts to any key federal programs.

A deadline for reaching a deal was set for November 23rd, meaning it actually had to be reached forty-eight hours before that in order for it to be presented to the Congressional Budget Office. Automatic cuts for January 2013 now must be enacted unless Congress finds a way around the mandates.

Destined to Fail

The truth is, many believed the postmortem had been written before the supercommittee had its first meeting.  Republicans would not go as far as Democrats sought on allowing more taxes, and Democrats had no intention to budge on entitlement reforms.

There is a chance Congress will somehow try to alter these cuts or even sidestep them. Even before the supercommittee failed, some lawmakers were already saying they would immediately put forward legislation to block those automatic cuts to the defense budget.

Under the law, the super panel was created with unheard-of fast-track powers agreed upon by Republicans and Democrats during the debt-ceiling crisis. That same law now triggers $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts over ten years, including over half a trillion cuts in defense spending.

It also is no coincidence the committee waited until after financial markets closed for the day to make the announcement. The Dow Jones industrial average had already tumbled by more than 300 points earlier in the day just in anticipation of the failure.

The question now is what the political fall-out will be. Eric Cantor, majority leader in the House of Representatives, all but assured the country that the super committee would agree on the required $1.5 trillion in cuts in government spending by the deadline. Only a few weeks earlier, he told reporters, “I think folks in this town on both sides of the aisle know that we can’t fail. There has to be success and an outcome here.” There was an outcome, but it certainly wasn’t success.

Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and architect of the 2012 Republican budget was more pessimistic about prospects for the panel. He told Fox News Sunday, “I wouldn’t call it super. … I’m not putting all my stock in this committee. I don’t think it’s going to be what fixes all of our fiscal problems. … Ultimately, I really think you need to change leadership in Washington if you want to fix this problem.”

The crisis that perpetrated the supercommittee came about because Congress and the White House have both been unwilling to make hard choices—choices that may cost them re-election but could right our sinking ship.

Much is being made about the low approval ratings for Congress and the President. But historically, voters tend to blame Congress but not their Congressman, the Senate but not their Senator, other Presidents but not the one they voted for.  We will have to wait till 2012 to see if the mood of the country has soured sufficiently to change that.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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